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Mapping your sustainability data – In conversation with Grace Boden and Katie Gibson

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Today we’re in conversation with our Senior Sustainability Data Manager, Grace and Principal Sustainability Data Consultant Katie, as they’re about to embark on an exciting new project supporting one of our clients to map their sustainability data and produce a data strategy for the business. But we want to know a bit more about what data mapping actually is and how can it help an organisation reach their wider sustainability goals.

Read Time
3 mins
Chloe Davis

Watch the video here, or read their answers below:


So to get started, would you be able to tell us a bit about what you mean by data mapping?

Yeah, sure. So data mapping is the process of connecting multiple sources of data, and allowing databases to be combined into a more simplified view. This just enables you to know where your data is coming from, when it’s coming, how frequently you’re going to get that data and then be able to plan for where that data is eventually going to end up.

Many businesses have lots of suppliers and stakeholders that do provide that non financial data and it can be difficult to know exactly where to start. Can you just walk us through the key steps involved in mapping sustainability data across a business and how you ensure that everyone’s engaged in the process?

Yes, so there are 4 key areas of the process. The first step is identifying the sources of data that you have – identifying where all your data is coming from and the availability of data. You should consider what sort of system it’s currently in. Is it all in Excel spreadsheets, in emails that are coming in from different people, or is there currently a system in place?

After identifying those key source areas, the next step is to think about when you can get that data. Look at when the data becomes available (whether that’s annually, monthly or quarterly) and see if it aligns with how often you need that information.

And then we’ll look at that data and think well, what is the final output we need from that data? So how is it going to be used, and is it needed for reporting requirements? What kind of people will need to use the data? What format does it need to be in?

You can then work out how to get it to that endpoint. Are there any checks that need to be done, do any calculations that need to be built, or do we need to transform the data in some format? Putting these four elements into a process allows you to pull data when needed.

It’s important to do this through a series of webinars or meetings with everybody who could be a potential stakeholder or at least somebody from each team in the business. We want to make sure that they’re involved throughout, either by joining the interviews with the stakeholders or just receiving the output from each of stage of the process.

Katie Stockford, Principle Data Consultant at Sustainit

Yes, it’s definitely important to make sure everyone’s on board across the whole process. What kind of organisations might need help mapping their data? And when can you apply the process that you just outlined?

We’ve actually done this for various sizes of companies. It’s probably most useful for larger companies that have lots of different functions or locations where they receive data from, because that can be quite hard to keep track of. But it can also be done for small businesses as well. In that case, it’s quite often just one person who’s responsible for the whole data collection process, which poses a degree of risk if they’re on holiday or if they leave the business. So it can be really beneficial to provide backup process guides or maps to hand to somebody else to pick up if they’re away.

So what kind of challenges do organisations commonly face? And are there any mistakes that can easily be avoided when managing sustainability data?


I think one of the biggest challenges is the volume and frequency of data. And then trying to manage it to reduce the number of errors. It’s not just about ensuring that all the required data is received on time, but also making sure that it is of good quality. You can’t just rely on receiving that data source from somebody without giving it some kind of audit. For instance, it’s crucial to avoid collecting duplicate data, which can easily happen if the same data is entered for two periods in the same file. So with a large volume of data, you want to make sure there is as much in place as possible to reduce those data entry errors.

Of course, there will always be room for human error, but it’s important to reduce the margin for mistakes. For example, a data source might come from an e-mail putting a lot of the onus on the person receiving that data to translate it into the right format. We’ve helped with creating data input files for people to submit into, which have built-in validation cheques reducing the need for the human eye to spot mistakes. It still needs that final check, but it helps to address a common challenge that some of our clients have.

We’ve also talked to Grace previously about greenwashing, which is a hot topic right now with the EU confirming a ban on misleading green claims. How do you think that data mapping can help companies back up their environmental statements?


Having a data mapping process in place allows you to be confident in the data that you’re collecting. If you know what checks are being put in place to validate the data, and you know that when you use that data to back up your green claims that it’s reliable, you can have a lot more confidence in the data.

It also ensures that you’ve always got that data available. If you’re making someone asks you OK, where where’s the data to back up that claim? You know exactly where it is and and you know it’s of good quality to be able to share that straight away with whoever needs to see it.

And how else can data mapping support a business with their ESG reporting or sustainability goals?


One of the ways it can help is it saves resources for the team that are using that data. Quite often a lot of time can go into checking, receiving, tracking, and reporting on all of this data. This can take away from the more important focuses like actually implementing changes to reduce emissions etc. So having a clear data strategy and data map can reduce resource burden on the actual data collection process.

We’ve also seen it gives auditors a lot of confidence when they can see that there’s a process in place for people collecting their data and checking it. It saves time with questions back and forth from the auditor if the company can prove there’s this process in place.


Yes, and also if something significant changes in your business, for example within the IT strategy or perhaps you acquire a new company or there’s a new framework you need to report to, having a clear map of where your data currently is allows you to easily see what might need to change to adapt to new requirements.

That links nicely into our final question. How do you ensure that your clients can develop a good data strategy over time? And what ongoing support do you provide to ensure that they can stay on track?

As we mentioned earlier, the first step is to identify all the processes and procedures that are currently in place with the company. If they’re having challenges we can work with them to identify improvement areas, including any gaps in the data. It’s definitely not just a one-time exercise. We continue to review this all the way along the process to make sure that any changes are accounted for and that it doesn’t become out of date. If you just do it once and then a year later, there might be completely different steps involved. It takes a lot more effort to update it a year later than to continually review along the way.

Well, thank you. That’s given us a lot of clarity over the data mapping process and the benefits of having a robust data strategy. So thanks for taking the time to talk to us today!

Find out more about our sustainability data services for businesses of all sizes here.

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